By Sristi Sharma MD, MPH
I confess–there are days when I like to unwind and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy. I revel at the personal drama, root for certain characters (Jackson!), cringe at medical atrocities and then spend (my precious) hours on the internet looking up this mythical hospital, that I can assure you, does not exist in the United States.
All real-life medical doctors, especially surgeons, have several issues with Grey’s Anatomy: the medical science in the program is all wrong, interns in the show have an impossible life, the attendings have a severe I-need-to-do-it-all complex-and don’t even get me started on the hair! However, what Grey’s Anatomy does get right is the alternate reality of gender roles in the field of surgery. Here are 5 things that Seattle Grace Hospital Department of Surgery can teach the real-life surgical community:
- The number of female surgery residents: As per AAMC 2016 residents report there are a whopping 163.4% more male surgery residents than female ones. This reflects the general surgery residency application figures which during the ERAS 2016 cycle had around 4870 males vs 2600 females. That is 187.3% more male applicants to these programs. The female heavy residency program at Seattle Grace Hospital does not reflect residency programs in the US. All programs in the country should make a better effort to recruit qualified women surgical residents.
- Miranda Bailey as the Chief of Surgery is an outlier. There are 271 general surgery residency programs in the United States. Of these only 16 programs are headed by women. That number was 1 in 2014. So although it looks like we are headed the right way, a lot still needs to be done. The ACS recently hosted a webinar on Principles of Leadership for the Young Surgeon. The fact that it was presented by an advocate for gender equity in general surgery was a great step in the right direction.
- In Seattle Grace Hospital the chiefs of cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery AND pediatric surgery are all women. Time and again, the show reiterates the high degree of technical skill these women have in their respective fields. So clearly, Seattle Grace Hospital is promoting people based on their qualifications and not on their gender. In the real world however, there exists a glass ceiling that is quite difficult to break, particularly in fields like surgery.There are many reasons why there is a scarcity of women in surgical leadership roles, however inherent systemic biases are some of the most unaddressed reasons that hold women surgeons back. We need to address these biases one at a time and do away with the barriers that prevent women surgeons from achieving their fullest potential.
- This year during the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the UN deplored the bias and stereotyping against women in science and went on to make a bold statement “The world needs science and science needs women”. Melinda Gates has made it a personal mission to increase the number of women in science. Now here is a list of research studies that the women surgeons of Seattle Grace Hospital do: Cristina Yang’s Conduit Trial, Meredith Grey’s Alzheimer’s drug trial, Miranda Bailey’s diabetes research, and Callie Torres’ limb simulation trial, to name a few. Clearly, this hospital has great policies that support research activities among these surgeons. This in turn makes them great academic surgeons, which in turn explains their promotion as department heads. It is a cycle that keeps on going and growing.
- Mentoring opportunities: The mentoring relationships portrayed in Grey’s Anatomy is what we all hope to have and give at some points in our careers. The deep bonds (although sometimes over-the-top) that every mentor has with their juniors explains why it seems every surgeon in the show is so successful. The show demonstrates men mentoring the women to rise to the top. A report published recently by Harvard Business School showed that male champions can change the workplace culture so that women actually get what they deserve. The women in turn mentor not just other women but also men (Arizona and Alex anyone?) and the entire system self-propagates. The report shows that companies which adopt gender diversity did better than others,which then kind of explains why Seattle Grace Hospital would be one of the ‘top choices’ for competitive residents.
So yes, while interns going berserk with LVADS and a gunman roaming around loose in the hallways may not bode well for a successful setup, Seattle Grace Hospital has some great qualities which surgical communities in the country should aspire to if they want to be considered a success overall.
Sristi Sharma MD, MPH is an aspiring surgeon, a clinical researcher at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a previous Paul Farmer Global Surgery Research Associate and a proud alum of Manipal University, India. She is an passionate about advocating for global surgery. She was born in the Himalayas and is a Gorkha to the core.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.